How to Painlessly Pace your Plot

I’m just kidding. Writing is never painless. It is equal parts frustration, spirit-crushing hopelessness, and tear-inducing trauma. But it’s also exciting, satisfying, and rewarding. It’s a pain you suffer through until you come out the other side with a finished product and can throw your fist in the air and shout that you have conquered the endless white screens and are Lord of the Keyboard. As for pacing, it might just be your toughest obstacle. So here are three things to remember when laying down the words of your story.

Everything is Included for a Reason

When I was writing my first book I had a bad habit of only wanting to write the exciting scenes. I knew the big events or action parts, and I just wanted to skip through everything else to get to them. I knew I couldn’t have big event after big event and that it needed to be spaced out, but that just wasn’t fun. The result was that I had my characters doing a bunch of meaningless tasks. Sure, they were believable, but not necessary. Or I’d do a step-by-step outline of everything they did in their days until the next big event finally came along. Boring. Unneeded. And way too many words. Or I’d be lazy and just create a pass of time so I could get to the point in the story I wanted to write in again. These are not the tips to follow.

I had a professor in my first college literature course who rewired my thinking here. He was telling a story of a book he’d been reading and his frustration with it. If I remember right, there was a point in the story where the main plot was broken up because the character lost his briefcase. Then the following pages were all about getting it back when at the end the briefcase served no purpose other than the fact that it had been lost. And that’s when he said that in books, everything must be included for a reason. I know that seems obvious, but take a minute to really think about it.

Have you written something unnecessary, boring, or unimportant? Remember, everything must serve the plot or character development in some way. You can’t just skip to the good parts and neglect the meat of the tale. You can’t just write a scene to get to the next. Each scene must mean something. It has to be there for a reason.

“Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.” –Stephen King

This is a simple, important message when it comes to pacing your novel. You don’t want to reveal too much too quickly or get all the good parts down at the beginning and let your middle be long and drawn out. You don’t want to save all the “aha moments” for the end without laying hints and leading up to their reveal. You have to lay groundwork at the start, explore the possibilities and gather your tools in the middle, and by the end your story structure should be well-built. The reader won’t be distracted by slow parts, out-of-place details, or unnatural progressions. Don’t give away everything at once. You have a whole novel for that. Pace yourself.

Create a Healthy Balance

Put your plot on a diet regime. Don’t weigh it down with exposition and back story. Don’t overfeed it with dialogue. Let the action give it plenty of exercise. Have your narrator be the spotter.

Your book needs to be well-balanced. Too much action is just as bad as too much description. Yet overusing dialogue will make the reader crave that description. Just as your plot needs pacing so do the tools you use to create it.

The plot needs to unfold at a healthy rate. Don’t get too comfortable with one tool. You wouldn’t spend forty pages on exposition and two pages on action, just like you wouldn’t spend forty minutes on warm-ups and two minutes on the treadmill. You can get too comfortable with one branch. Maybe you love writing dialogue and hate describing settings. Maybe you’re like me and love the action scenes but overlook the importance of the smaller scenes. The point is you have to mix it up. You have to use all your outlets to form a well-rounded story. Listen to your narrator. Is he talking too much? Spending too much time in his own head? Ignoring the settings around him? Using twelve pages to describe one tree? Running all over the place from action sequence to action sequence like The Flash? Step back and see what he’s doing, what he’s overlooking, and what needs to be added or removed to balance out your novel and create a good story. Then, as always, pace it out.

What issues do you have when it comes to pacing? Do you rely too heavily on one facet? What advice do you have for creating a balance and maintaining a good pace? Comment below!

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1 Comment

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One response to “How to Painlessly Pace your Plot

  1. You are an aesome writer danielle. I found this post really interesting to read even tho I don’t write for a living. Would have been helpful back in school! Lol. Beautifully done and great advice to writers everywhere.

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